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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Richard Owen   [April? 1848]1

Down, Farnborough, Kent.

My dear Owen,—

… I am much pleased at your praise of my Coral volume, and am very glad you recommend it to the notice of voyagers.2 It would undoubtedly be far more suggestive to any one who will really attend to the subject, but for the generality, perhaps, the abstract in my journal would be the most [useful]… .3 I have lately read with very great interest all the parts which I could follow in your Report on Archetypes, &c.4 You may remember that I suggested explanations to the woodcuts. I am not a quarter satisfied yet. You may with perfect justice say you do not write for tyros; but if ever you take compassion (and there is no other claim) on ignoramuses such as myself, you will in every woodcut give the name to every letter or number in your woodcuts, even if repeated 500 times, for just that many times will it make your work intelligible to the ignorant.

Believe me, | Yours very sincerely, | C.DARWIN.


Erroneously dated 1843 in R. S. Owen 1894, 1: 208. The revised date is established by the references to Owen’s recommendation of Coral reefs and to his book, On the archetype and homologies of the vertebrate skeleton, which was publicly available at the beginning of April 1848 (see n. 4, below).
In Owen’s chapter on zoology in the Admiralty manual (Herschel ed. 1849, p. 349).
R. Owen 1848, originally a report delivered at the British Association meeting of 1846. It was expanded and published as a separate volume between 14 and 29 March 1848 (Publishers’ Circular, 1 April 1848). On 1 January 1848, CD recorded that he had read all the reports of the British Association up to 1847 (DAR 119; Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV), so the comparison between Owen’s paper and the published book may have been fresh in his mind.


Coral reefs: The structure and distribution of coral reefs. Being the first part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1842.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Journal of researches 2d ed.: Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. 2d edition, corrected, with additions. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1845.

Owen, Richard. 1848. On the archetypes and homologies of the vertebrate skeleton. London: John Van Voorst.

Owen, Richard Startin. 1894. The life of Richard Owen … With the scientific portions revised by C. Davies Sherborn; also an essay on Owen’s position in anatomical science by the Right Hon. T. H. Huxley, F.R.S. 2 vols. London: John Murray.


Pleased at RO’s praise of Coral reefs.

Has read with very great interest RO’s "Report on the archetype" [Rep. BAAS 16 (1846): 169–340]. RO should give name to every letter or number in his woodcuts.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Richard Owen
Sent from
Source of text
R. S. Owen 1894, 1: 209

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 997,” accessed on 31 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 4